It’s been more than a month since the Charlotte Diocese released its list of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse involving minors. The diocese says the process to publish the list was a thorough one that included hiring an independent investigative firm to review its files. But the list has received criticism about being incomplete.
Since the Charlotte Diocese list was released in the waning days of December, Terrence McKiernan of the watchdog group BishopAccountability.org has repeatedly said names are missing.
One of those names is Harold Johnson.
"Harold Johnson was a Boston priest, ordained in 1949 who worked for most of his career in Boston but spent three years working at St. Patrick’s in Charlotte," McKiernan said.
Johnson was included on a 2011 list released by the Boston Archdiocese of credibly accused clergy. His assignment history — where he served and correlating years — are included. He died in 2009.
From February 1957 to October 1959, Johnson worked at St. Patrick in Charlotte. At that point the entire state was under the jurisdiction of the Raleigh Diocese. The Charlotte Diocese wasn’t formed until 1972.
Harold Johnson’s name is not currently on the Charlotte or Raleigh lists. McKiernan says it’s a good thing that more lists are being released across the country, but he says dioceses need to regularly communicate when it comes to publishing information.
"Johnson’s connection with North Carolina was public knowledge in 2011, eight years before the Charlotte list came out," McKiernan said. "The dioceses ought to be comparing notes and paying close attention to the revelations coming out of all of the dioceses of the United States."
The Boston Archdiocese and Raleigh Diocese did not respond to our requests for comments.
When reached for comment, the Charlotte Diocese said it did not have any records on Harold Johnson, that his name was new and is currently being researched to determine whether Johnson’s name should be referenced on its website. As for why there’s not more communication between dioceses, a representative of the Charlotte Diocese said that it depends on the diocese and the bishop, but they believed communication was happening more often.
McKiernan says what makes the Harold Johnson case particularly disturbing, is the public documents that show Johnson likely abused individuals before and after his time in Charlotte — there is no known documentation that Johnson abused minors during his assignment in Charlotte.
In 1992, a man alleged in a letter to Cardinal Bernard Law of the Boston Archdiocese that he was abused by Johnson. It reads:
"Roughly 40 years ago, I was seduced by Father Johnson. He was my confessor. He took advantage of my adolescent confusion and loneliness. He took advantage of information gained through the confessional to pacify his carnal needs."
That abuse would have been in the 1950s during Johnson’s time at Sacred Heart Parish in Weymouth, Massachusetts.
"It’s really significant that Harold Johnson used confession to groom that particular victim," McKiernan said. "That’s a very, very serious offense in the Catholic Church. A priest who is willing to use the sacrament of confession to abuse child is a very dangerous person, especially in the 1950s when everyone was going to confession every week."
Shortly after this letter, Johnson was sent to St. Luke Institute in Maryland for treatment. McKiernan believes during this time at St. Luke, Johnson admitted to more abuse. Johnson had asked to step away from the program he was undergoing at St. Luke to attend a family wedding, but was denied that request. In a letter to church officials in Boston, he expresses his displeasure over that decision. He wrote:
"The reasons advanced for the denial of permission were given (I) that I was not sincerely working the program to the best of my ability, (2) that I am at risk to travel to Boston (this, despite the fact that I have not "acted-out" in four years!)"
McKiernan says that last line is an admission to more recent abuse.
"Johnson felt he ought to be able to take a break from his therapy because he hadn’t acted out in the last four years, that indicated out that he had acted out at approximately 1988," McKiernan said.
Harold Johnson died in 2009. McKiernan says he believes Johnson is one of at least nine missing from the Charlotte Diocese list.
Previously, the Charlotte Diocese said its list could be amended if new information came to light.
Full statement from the Charlotte Diocese:
The late Harold J. Johnson was a priest of the Boston Archdiocese who appears to have served in the city of Charlotte under the supervision of the Diocese of Raleigh in the late 1950s – 15 years before the Diocese of Charlotte was formed. The Diocese of Charlotte has no records on Johnson. We appreciate Terry McKiernan from Bishop Accountability for bringing Johnson’s name to light and are in the process of gathering information from Raleigh and Boston to determine whether he should be referenced on our website.
Last month, WFAE released an investigative podcast series, "The List," focusing on the process of Catholic dioceses releasing names of credibly accused clergy. The series, hosted and reported by Sarah Delia, also examines the impact of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church – including in the Charlotte Diocese.